Border agent in Arizona marijuana case is indicted

AP News
Posted: Apr 12, 2011 9:07 PM
Border agent in Arizona marijuana case is indicted

A federal grand jury indicted a U.S. Border Patrol agent Tuesday on charges of marijuana trafficking after prosecutors said he appeared to be a mole who infiltrated the agency to smuggle drugs.

The indictment came a day after a federal magistrate in Yuma allowed suspect Michael Atondo to be freed without bond until his trial on previously filed charges.

Atondo was arrested while on duty April 4.

Authorities said fellow Border Patrol agents discovered Atondo in a remote area along the Mexican border near San Luis _ several miles outside of his patrol zone _ with 745 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle.

The 44 packages of pot had an estimated value of $371,000, according to prosecutors.

A call to Atondo's attorney John Minore wasn't immediately returned Tuesday.

The four-count indictment supersedes the previous case and charges Atondo with conspiracy to commit importation of marijuana, importation of marijuana, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

During the bond hearing Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Uhl tried to convince Magistrate Jay Irwin that Atondo was a flight risk.

"How much more dangerous is it when the drug smuggler is a Border Patrol agent, in a town like Yuma, where the Border Patrol is a respected federal law enforcement agency?" Uhl asked the magistrate.

Uhl said Atondo had traveled to Mexico four times in the past year with someone with ties to drug running, had just paid cash for a $26,000 boat, and that his wife had recently emptied all the money from their bank account.

Irwin, however, was unconvinced and released the agent on his own recognizance.

"I don't think the defendant is going to run. If he does, it will be the most foolish thing he could do, other than the crime he has been accused of," Irwin said.

During the bond hearing, Minore noted that his client has not been convicted.

"Did he stray to the dark side? We don't know," Minore told The Yuma Sun.